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The Men at the Mike

Recalling the days of sportscasting's legends—Mel Allen, Red Barber, Curt Gowdy And Others—When baseball and cigar smoke were in the air.
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

(continued from page 5)

But Kiner gets the last laugh. Someone once asked him why he didn't choke up on the bat and he responded, "Cadillacs don't choke up." And Hall of Famers needn't smoke Roi-Tans.

He recently got to see his old friend, Ted Williams. Williams selected Kiner as one of the 20 greatest hitters of all time and inducted him into his Hall of Fame.

Howard Cosell didn't make the Hall of Fame as a baseball broadcaster, but he left an impression on baseball just as he did on football and boxing. "He was never without a Macanudo," says Peter Bonventre, who wrote Cosell's autobiography, Never Played the Game. Bonventre tells a story that seems to capture Cosell'sirascible essence:

"One time, Howard was smoking in an elevator in the ABC building. A woman gets on and says to him, 'Must you smoke that thing in this elevator?' Howard puffed and spoke. 'My dear, I'm Howard Cosell, and you are nobody.'" That was Cosell.

As Jimmy Cannon once said, "If Howard Cosell were a sport, he'd be roller derby." Cosell would reply to the barbs, saying "I'm just telling it like it is." And Cannon would be waiting with a reply: "He changed his name from Cohen to Cosell, put on a toupee and 'tells it like it is.'" But Cosell deflected remarks by joining in on the hissing. "Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a show-off," he once said. "I have been called all of these. Of course, I am."

"Cosell is the most important broadcaster of our times," says Curt Smith. "He defined what's allowed to be asked, what's expected to be known and, yes, he told it like it is. Cosell was the largest personality in broadcasting history. Whatever your feelings, you must respect him. A lot of questions would not have been asked, but were because of Cosell. He brought the tough interview to sports."

Gowdy agrees: "He cut his own swath."

And his swath was broad. Given his law background--he had excelled at the New York University Law School and was editor of the law review--he had several advantages: critical thinking and an expansive vocabulary. And just as his language could cut to the quick, it could also be overwrought. During one baseball broadcast for ABC, he began to recall a childhood memory, saying, "Let us reflect back nostalgically on the past." This leads us to reflect back on when Howard reflected on Tom Owens, a mediocre quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1970s. "I'm impressed by the continuity of his physical presence," Cosell said of Owens. Did this mean that no matter where one turned, Owens would be there? Only Cosell knows. He marched to his own drummer.

"Cigars were part of his shtik and part of his persona and part of his signature," says Curt Smith.

New York Times sportswriter Robert Lipsyte recalls Cosell's nonstop smoking. "He used a cigar as a prop. He'd lean back, peer at you through a cloud of smoke, used it as a pause to get the right line, waved it through the air like a scepter--he used it in all the stereotypical ways. And at the end, when he was very ill and taking a lot of medicine, what he missed were the pleasures of life. And you know, I think he missed the cigars the most."

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